- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

Florida officials have halted abortions at five clinics in the state — two indefinitely — and have suspended the medical license of the problem-plagued owner of the facilities in connection with accusations that he performed illegal late-term abortions.

An emergency order issued Wednesday by the Florida Department of Health suspending Dr. James S. Pendergraft IV’s license stated he showed “a flagrant disregard for the laws of the state of Florida and a willingness to endanger the lives and health of pregnant patients.”

In separate action, the state Agency for Health Care Administration put an indefinite halt to abortions at Dr. Pendergraft’s Orlando Women’s Center and EPOC Clinic, also in Orlando. The agency also barred abortions at his clinics in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Ocala for a week.

The state says that in 2004 and 2005, “Dr. Pendergraft endangered two female patients by performing third-trimester abortions outside a hospital setting and without concurring certification from a second physician.”

Under state law, third-trimester abortions are lawful if needed to “save the life or preserve the health of the pregnant woman.” But the law requires that such procedures be performed in a hospital unless two physicians “certify in writing” that an urgent abortion is needed to save a woman’s life.

Dr. Pendergraft’s attorney, Robert Buonauro, said an appeal of the suspension will be filed in the next day or two.

Dr. Pendergraft “operated within the (medical) guidelines and protocol” of Florida and “had the appropriate certification” for the third-trimester abortion he performed in July 2005, Mr. Buonauro said.

He said it is his client’s position that the woman involved in the 2004 abortion was in the second trimester of pregnancy, not the third, and so the doctor was not subject to the same legal restrictions.

Marti MacKenzie, a spokeswoman for Dr. Pendergraft, said he has “encountered obstacles” since opening his first abortion clinic in Orlando nearly 15 years ago.

“This is a Bush-run state that is constantly anti-choice,” she said. “Dr. Pendergraft is many women’s last hope, but there are always movements afoot to hinder him.”

Dr. Pendergraft has had other legal difficulties. He was convicted of extortion in February 2001 and sentenced to nearly four years in prison after he and a business associate filed a lawsuit saying that his Ocala clinic was not given adequate protection from abortion protesters. Officials said the lawsuit was part of an extortion plot to get the county to pay the two to close the clinic.

Dr. Pendergraft spent seven months in prison before an appeals court overturned his conviction. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to a count of accessory after the fact to making false statements. The Florida Board of Medicine later dismissed the case.

In April last year, a former patient filed inhumane-treatment charges against Dr. Pendergraft, saying she gave birth to a live 23-week-old in a clinic restroom after an abortion earlier in the month, according to the Christian Newswire. The woman said no one responded to her cries for help for the baby, who died. The clinic doctor said the baby was stillborn, and the medical examiner’s office said it found no reason to disagree.

Last spring, the Board of Medicine voted to drop the charges against Dr. Pendergast in that case, according to the Christian Newswire.

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